Talking to Chahak Mittal, Filmmaker Vivek Agnihotri stated that his research would have taken around a decade more if he had restricted himself to national archives or other documents and records for proper facts for the film
It took just a single tweet for director and filmmaker Vivek Agnihotri to get the idea of creating a film on India’s second Prime Minister, Lal Bahadur Shastri, and his fateful demise. “It was October 2, 2017, and I had tweeted, ‘It’s Shastri’s birthday too.’ That was the time when somebody commented that why don’t you make a film on him?” says he.
The film, The Tashkent Files, comes with a hashtag question — Who killed Shastri? More than half a century after that fateful morning in Tashkent and the question still remains unanswered — Did Shastri really die a natural death or was it an assassination birthed from political disagreements?
Well, Vivek could have chosen the easy way after the tweet and just made a biopic on his life and suspicious death. However, he felt that there have been numerous chapters in history textbooks talking about what life did the man live. However, “not a single one answering or making the youth realise the importance of questioning that how did he die so abruptly?”
The director feels that India’s youth and audience are maturing with a great pace as questioning almost everything. Hence, he says that the film is dedicated to all the “honest journalists and truth seekers” in the country. “Sometimes they even question certain things which are better to be left as they are. However, this is a sign that they are maturing and realising what their duties and rights are. They are able to question what they think is unjustified. The youth is taking interest in the country. Why do you think all these big star-based films are not working? People are preferring more realistic elements and content that can relate to the real life stories of the common man,” says Vivek.
As a filmmaker, he felt that he could bring it back to people’s conscience now that reaching them is easier, especially due to social media. He says, “Now is the right time when they could question the manner of his death again. It is something that had to be questioned irrespective of its timing. At that time, no one, including the journalists, officers or even other people in authority questioned the manner of his sudden death. Imagine, a PM goes on an international trip for a political treaty, and just dies… Even an autopsy on the body was not conducted. Isn’t it questionable? The silence around it made me curious.”
For Vivek, once he picked up the project, it transcended to more than just a film. “It became my right as a citizen of India to know what happened to the second PM of India. It was not just a murder mystery anymore. It became a web of questions about how India and its democracy became a victim to the Cold War between USA and USSR? What were the policies of our leaders and the government and how were they correct for the country? How would have India shaped up if Shastri was alive? A lot of things opened up and helped me understand India better,” he says.
With the film, the director says, he also aims to question the democracy and people’s right to information. While going through the research for the film, there was a stage of frustration when he wasn’t able to find any way out. It was indeed tough to get the right data. “I filed a number of RTIs and received no response. I checked the records, approached national archives and read books from public libraries, and didn’t find any answer. It was the most shattering and frustrating moment in the whole journey,” he tells us, adding, “All the evidence was destroyed. Hence, we didn’t have much information that we could have referred to. Things were beyond forensic control now. Documents and many files from the Parliament itself were missing. It would have taken more than a decade had I depended on them.”
It was then the idea of crowd-sourcing came to his mind and called out the public to reach to him in case they have any related information. Well, surprisingly, “within hours so many people wrote to us that the server got jammed. That’s where I found a new direction.”
However, in this social-media, fake news-led world, how to differentiate between facts and fiction? “I am intelligent,” laughs Vivek and goes on to add that they tried to “cross-reference” the overlapping facts and figures. He explains, “If a hundred people are on side A, and the other hundred people on side B, then we struck out the commonalities between both the sides and dug out the real matter. We kept finding the common lines and counter questioning each thing.”
The film, he says, proceeds exactly in the way that the research happened — one thing gets added to the other the moment it’s discovered.
Well, the film’s release date (April 12) too raises certain questions given that General Elections are round the corner. However, the director counter questions that why are dates assigned to directors and actors? “Nobody questions why Salman Khan only releases his film on Eid or Akshay Kumar on August 15 or January 26. If they have a reason, here, it’s a political season, so why not? Such a film would anyway have grabbed equal eyeballs irrespective of when it releases,” he laughs as he signs off.
Photo: Pankaj Kumar
Writer: Chahak Mittal
Courtesy: The Pioneer